October 25, 2016

Horse 2181 - Conservative Politics Isn't Dead, It's Reorganising

I think it weird that the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Independent all ran articles questioning the strength of conservative parties around the world at the moment. In the Anglosphere this conveniently ignores that the Conservatives under Teresa May have the British House Of Commons locked in until 2020 and possibly longer if the Labour Party continues to rip itself to pieces, the Liberal-National Coalition in Australia was returned to government in 2016 under Malcolm Turnbull and the exception is that the Grits hold power in Canada under Justin Trudeau but Canada is always the exception.

The media frequently makes the mistake of myopia by confusing what is going on in this exact moment with the longer arc of history; it needs to if it wants to sell advert space along side its copy.
Admittedly what we've seen in the United States is extraordinary, with the Republican Party not really taking seriously the prospect of an outside candidate using the rules of the party to secure their nomination for president and then watching as that same outside candidate explodes in a horrible fireball. On the other side of the race, the Democratic Party deliberately rigged proceedings to install Hillary Clinton as their nomination, and look surprisingly unified. The awful truth is that had Ms Clinton been running against a conventional candidate, then probably we'd have an actual race on our hands and she'd be subject to actual scrutiny but I digress.

What we're witnessing is nothing short of Duverger's Law play out yet again. Duverger's Law is the principle that where you have single member electorates, it tends towards two party politics in the long run; invariably it must do because a party can either be in or out and political power tends to organise behind either one of those two positions. As the Presidency can only be occupied by a single person, then as expected, power coagulates behind either the party that is in or out, and the generally the party that is out, goes through some sort of terrible rift before it reorganises itself again. What I don't know is whether or not this reorganisation of the Republican Party is one of those seismic shifts or not.

The Republicans assumed their position of social conservatism combined with a desire to raze government, some time before 1964 and this resulted in the embarrassing rejection of Barry Goldwater at the polls. The party continued on that path and arguably Nixon, Reagan and the two Bushes merely followed the party. The Democrats had already split and cast off the section of ex Southern Democrats by about 1976 and so the party of Carter, Clinton and Obama, has been progressively progressive when it comes to social positions but kind of ambivalent on what it thinks the role of government is.
Possibly after Obama came to power, the Republicans already began to start shifting. The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and then the so called Freedom Coalition are kind of factional experiments within the broader tent of the party. However, they do not really represent anything particularly different outside of the two rails of social conservatism and the wish for the neuterng of government which the party started heading towards in the 1960s. What Donald Trump is is a demagogue but the people who have followed him and installed him as the nominee, are those people for whom the erosion of government at the expense of surrendering the power of governance to private entities, hasn't worked for them. These people still remain socially conservative but they aren't exactly open to what the Democratic Party has to offer.

The interesting thing about this election is that although it has the veneer of a fog of insanity, it is rather easy to analyse. If you look at where the most populated urban centres are and then look at the Electoral College, there is a pretty good sort of direct mapping going on. In expected Electoral College votes, the west coast, the northeast and Florida are the things which will determine who becomes President. Those places also tend to be full of non-whites and more socially progressive people. Down ballot, the Republicans tend to get more people actively engaged in the more direct aspects of democracy; which is why the Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the House. These people also tend to be older and would have been the people who also voted for Nixon, Reagan and the two Bushes.

What will be interesting is what happens over the course of the next four years.The Republican Party will need to address how to attract voters in urban centres whilst retaining the socially conservative people who make up a great chunk of their base. Donald Trump might have an air of absolute wingnuttery but his underlying set of positions fit in with the general raft of policies that the Republican Party has been floating around on for the past fifty years. Although he would pull the country in a more isolationist direction, that isn't particularly outstanding of socially conservative policy. One could argue that Brexit in the United Kingdom, is just a more fully realised version of what Trump is proposing; with the added advantage that there is already a forty mile moat in place of a wall.
Although what we're witnessing is the political self-defeat of a Republican presidential candidate, we're not necessarily witnessing the defeat of conservative politics or conservative parties. This looks to me, more like the blood letting that always happens after England gets knocked out of yet another football tournament, or when Australia loses a cricket test series. This is one team who is heading into a match and expecting a hiding to nothing. Conservative politics is rudely healthy though and even if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency, the United States isn't going to broadly shift anywhere.

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